Chukka vs Chelsea: Which Boots Are Best For You?

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William Barton Avatar by  William Barton | Last Updated:  Oct 16, 2020
Chukka vs Chelsea Boots a comparison cartoon graphic with Chukka boot on one side and Chelsea boot on the other

Both chukka boots and Chelsea boots are solid year-round styles, but what’s the big difference?

Is one better than the other?

In this article, we’ll dive into the differences between chukka and Chelsea boots, and give you a style guide so you can decide which boot is the best choice for you.

What Are Chukka Boots?

model standing on staircase wearing beeswax color clarks desert boot leather chukka

Chukka boots are lace-up ankle boots. They’re usually made with leather and suede, though there are versions made with canvas uppers or other materials. 

You can find classy dress chukkas, or other types of boots like the timeless Clarks Desert Boot, which is much more suited to a casual setting. 

close up of clarks desert boot and khaki pant

It’s not completely clear how chukka boots got their name, but their origin is likely tied to the game of polo. Many speculate that the boots were worn by off-duty officers in the British Colonial Army and polo players, mainly for their comfort compared to the unwieldy knee-high polo boot. 

Now, chukka boots are a go-to in the cooler months, especially if you pick up a pair in suede. 

The style is defined by its open lacing and typically has two or three eyelets. Some versions, like Clarks, can be slipped on and off, but more formal versions need to be tied and untied. 

Clarks Desert Boot

Clarks Original Desert Boot is the iconic style that put chukkas on the map. It's been 70 years since these went into production and they're beloved around the world.

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How to Wear Chukka Boots

Chukka boots are versatile, but it depends on the style you get. If you pick up a pair of boots with a crepe sole, they’re going to start looking a little ragged after a few months because that particular type of rubber absorbs a lot of dirt. 

model wearing t shirt chino and clarks desert boot chukka

These boots can be worn with jeans and chinos. If you get a more polished chukka with a leather sole, you can work it into a suit outfit, though the style isn’t recommended for formal events like weddings.

What Are Chelsea Boots?

MGemi dritto chelsea boot model wearing chelsea boot and jeans

Chelsea boots are leather ankle boots with an elastic gore panel on the sides. Many Chelsea boots also have a pull tab at the heel, but this isn’t a defining factor as many brands forego the tab. 

In our experience, we’ve seen two dominant styles of the Chelsea boot: a chunkier English style that features a more rounded toe box and a wider profile, and a slimmer European style with a narrow toe box and a shallow instep. 

To get a good feel for what we mean, take a look at the Moral Code Lawry vs the M.Gemi Dritto.

The Lawry Chelsea boot from Moral Code is done in the classic English style. As you can see, it’s a bit more bulbous and sturdy looking. This style works best in casual settings paired with jeans.

model wearing leather rolltop backpack moral code entering building
Moral Code Lawry

Full grain leather complimented with a Goodyear welt: the Moral Code Lawry is a steal at well under $200. It's the slightly chunkier English style boot that pairs very well with jeans.

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But the Dritto from M.Gemi is more streamlined. The Blake stitching keeps a low profile and the boot is slimmer and more narrow overall. 

profile view of mgemi dritto leather chelsea boot

The slimmed-down European style Chelsea boot is your best option if you want to make your Chelsea boot more formal. 

M.Gemi Dritto

M.Gemi's Italian-inspired Chelsea boot has a slim Blake-stitched profile for that full European flair. This richly textured boot is luxury quality but costs around half the price.

Check Best Price Read Our Review
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

We wouldn’t wear the chunkier English style with a suit, but the slimmer Euro style is an elegant and fashionable way to stand out while suiting up. 

The traditional Chelsea boot has a leather sole, but there are more and more fantastic options that feature a rubber sole. 

How to Wear Chelsea Boots

MGemi dritto chelsea boot model wearing chelsea boot and jeans 1

Chelsea boots are a must for every stylish guy’s wardrobe in our opinion because of their versatility. You can dress them up or down with ease. 

The lack of laces presents a clean, simple silhouette that elevates any outfit. 

If we were to only choose one pair of Chelsea boots, we recommend the more narrow European style discussed above. Having that extra bit of versatility in more formal outfits is excellent, and they do well as nice date night boots, too. 

Chukka vs Chelsea Boots: Which Should You Get?

Both of these boots have their strengths and weaknesses, so there’s no easy answer here. So we’re going to break down the reasons why you might choose one over the other. 

Reasons to Get a Chelsea Boot

Our favorite style of boot here at BootSpy is the Chelsea boot, so of course we’re going to lead with the reasons to get a pair of these sleek stunners. 

The Chelsea boot is the most versatile boot you can buy, especially if you pick up a black pair or a darker shade in the brown family (burgundy, ox-blood, oak, etc.). 

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A slim brown Chelsea boot lends some elegance to a pair of jeans and still pairs well with chinos or a casual suit.  

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Because of the simple upper-construction, these boots are easy to care for with a little polish and leather balm so you can keep them clean looking year-round.

If you’re thinking about getting a pair of Chelsea boots for yourself, we recommend buying something that’s either Goodyear welted or Blake stitched. With these types of shoe construction, you can always resole your boots after the heel wears out. 

Three of our favorite Chelsea boots are:

Reasons to Get a Chukka

The open lacing construction of a chukka lends itself well to a casual wardrobe. While there’s a little more going on design-wise with chukkas, the style is still simple and clean. 

It’s more common to see suede in chukkas than Chelseas, and we think that the added texture looks better in the chukka style. 

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For this reason, chukkas are an excellent cool-weather boot for fall and winter. A flannel shirt, pair of raw denim jeans, and a suede chukka is one of the most cozy and stylish outfits you can put together. 

There’s a greater variety of chukkas available, ranging from rugged to classy. While you can wear classier versions with a casual suit, the cleaner construction of the Chelsea boot lends itself better to formalwear. 

Our favorite chukka boots are:

Which Should You Get?

For our money, we’d choose a Chelsea boot.

That said, even with the increasing popularity of the style, some find it too fashion-forward for their tastes. Chukka boots are a safer choice, and while they don’t have the same ability to go formal like a Chelsea, there are still excellent classy options that will work with a casual suit. 

In either case, we strongly recommend you invest in a resolable boot. Look for Goodyear welted or Blake stitched boots as these have the most weather resistance and better longevity than their cemented-sole counterparts. 

Chelsea? Or Chukka?

What do you think?

Are you a fan of the fashion-forward Chelsea? 

Or do you want to play it safe with a classy chukka?

If you’re building your boot collection and you don’t have a lot of variety and versatility in your wardrobe already, we like the Chelsea boot. The style will give you the most bang for your buck if you have a limited number of boot styles.

M.Gemi Dritto

M.Gemi's Italian-inspired Chelsea boot has a slim Blake-stitched profile for that full European flair. This richly textured boot is luxury quality but costs around half the price.

Check Best Price Read Our Review
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

If you’re interested in a new boot that can fit a specific outfit, a suede pair of chukkas can be the perfect pop of texture. 

Clarks Desert Boot

Clarks Original Desert Boot is the iconic style that put chukkas on the map. It's been 70 years since these went into production and they're beloved around the world.

Check Best Price Read Our Review
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Which is it for you? Let us know in the comments.

FAQs

What are chukka boots good for?

Chukka boots are versatile boots. There are many suede options available which is one of the best boot choices you can make for fall. Chukkas are simple, stylish, and fit in well with a casual wardrobe.

Why is it called a chukka?

It’s said that the name “chukka” comes from the game of polo, where a period of play is called a “chukker.” This style of boot was popular with polo players shortly after WWII.

What color boot is most versatile?

Any boot in the deep-brown family is the most versatile. Look for dark brown, oxblood, or burgundy boots as these can pair with jeans, chinos, and a casual suit.

Are Chelsea boots formal?

Chelsea boots aren’t formal, but if you get a slim style, you can easily pair them with a casual to semi-formal suit. They aren’t considered a part of a black-tie outfit, though.

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